Letter from Africa

Fr Gerald Gostling, a Brentwood priest working in our twinned Diocese of Dundee, South Africa, writes:

Fr Gerald with beneficiaries of M-Care

Fr Gerald with beneficiaries of M-Care

Greetings midway through 2016, to my family, such a wonderful treasure; to the great and loyal friends who support our work with your interest, your prayers, your support and encouragement, in clothes and food, finance, advice, and in many other ways. I hope this finds you well, but however life is for you be assured of my prayers and remembrance at Mass. All the volunteer team members and children and youth also pray for you even though they do not know you personally! What they do know and are very grateful for is that the care and love they get is made possible by the generosity of a wider family.

I quote from two texts received earlier this year, and I have dozens to choose from! What I can guarantee is that we all have great humour, enjoyment, and faith within the most trying conditions. We all learn to work together, persevere, and everyone comes through stronger and happy.

First text:

Morning Fr G how are u. the rain and storms, I am now living in a swimming pool. I am helpless and with the children…..”

This is from Veronica, our coordinator of the Township Mduduzi Family Care since 2005. I shared last year that a stand (a plot in the Township) was negotiated for her and the family as she had nowhere of her own to live, and it is from her own home that she cares for many of the more than 50 orphans/child-headed families that we have in the Mduduzi Family Care project. Our ten volunteer ladies are all poor, with mainly shacks as their homes and as their operational base in taking in and caring for the needy children. The homes are constructed of the wooden poles and the tin/metal/corrugated sheets. Like Veronica’s new home the waterproofing is only tested in the rain, and we have had no heavy downfall for at least nine months – then when the heavens opened with a storm and torrential rain (and the rain was more than welcome) many families found themselves living on an island in the middle of a ‘lake’, and often an indoor swimming pool thrown in as a bonus! Families then set themselves to get more poles and re-roof the shacks with stronger corrugated iron, as the original sheets were collected from left-overs found in the streets and the local dump (never quite the most reliable shopping area). Fortunately, through some providential funding, Veronica is replacing her shack with a brick house. The RDP bricks used are locally made in the Township. A single brick is used, there are no cavity walls. They have started to build now in June. I hope to have photos of the progress.

Second text:

“Gud day Papa G hope u having a lovly day…..I have the school uniforms calculated it all amounted to R2664. Shirt R70 x 6, trousers R130 x 6, toughees shoes R230 x 6, socks R14 x 6. Will also write letter when we are done with it…..God bless Vincent”.

He writes on behalf of the fairly new and going-very-well youth initiative Ithemba Nenjabulo, which finds needy families and ‘abandoned children’ and sets to, helping them, which includes encouragement to go to school and providing the basic school uniform. I quote what Vincent wrote not as a hidden appeal, but to show how far we can make a little money go if you convert that amount into sterling. While typing this I received another text to say that when the youth went to buy these things they were given a good discount as they are for our orphans! They also mentioned in the same text that the lake of sewerage in the street (still all dirt tracks!) is growing…and some innocently minded children are fishing in it. The June Report from Ithemba Nenjabulo is complete and available to interested parties.

As I explained before, the older youth who have now left school are working towards gaining skills such as welding, mechanical engineering, electrics, and such like. This is going well, but there are frustrating times when, typically, for example, teachers do not turn up, material is slow in arriving or gets hijacked on the way, and as you may have heard in the news (February) about unrest and protests at many universities which does not bode well for the serious minded student. However our youth are part of those who persevere and press forward. Vincent our M-Care Bantam driver (and chief mechanic!) completed and passed his “Double coding” welding course last month. Rosie is almost half way through her training for the Police Force. She says she wants an office job as she isn’t one to shoot and beat people up!!

Our next DVD will, I hope, be complete by the end of this month. Kyle (with thanks) has been working on it in his spare time for the past two months!

Three times a year we continue to hold gatherings of the children, orphans, families, volunteers…which is a very happy and important social occasion. Some gatherings number 60 plus, and others over 200.

The solid fuel cooking stove is a huge success. It has a room of its own and provides lots of pap and gravy and home-made biscuits and sponge. The household gathers there for evening storytelling.

Here in South Africa the weather during the summer months was extremely hot and dry. Many crops have failed and many animals have died because the water holes dried up, and the water level of some of our boreholes has dropped so that there is no water! Fr. Giorgio (remember we worked closely together in the early years) in a parish just over the border in Swaziland shared in one of his emails to me recently:

“…..It is now eight months that I commute every weekend between Manzini and Hluti to take care of the Mission of Our Lady of Sorrows which has the main church and five out-stations. It extends from Nhlangano to Lavumisa corresponding in S.A. from Piet Retief to Pongola ….. Most of the Mission is ravaged by a severe drought which has killed thousands of cattle for the lack of grass and water. The people are on the verge of desperation. Let us hope for good rain soon…… From the Priest’s house at night I can see the lights of Pongola and during the day the green fields of the sugar cane around the town! I am enjoying it even if I have to travel on average 2,000 km. per month. I had baptisms in all communities but one, where we are busy building a small chapel (10m.x 6m.). Baptisms will follow the completion of the small structure….”     Fr. Giorgio actually describes a situation that exists in many of our own rural missions. He then continues to describe the wonderful people in his missions.

The Tyburn Sisters, after their very happy six-month stay in Blaauwbosch, have returned to London to evaluate the experience and decide on the future.

I am myself living, for the moment, in Newcastle; I still have the responsibility to oversee the Projects in Mpumalanga. In fact we have a Caritas meeting the 5th/6th August at Maria Ratschitz Mission to hear about establishing “Caritas” in the Diocese which will bring together all the social outreach programmes of the Diocese. This is a Caritas International initiative. We shall wait and see how possible this is! The new developments taking place in this part of the Diocese continue. Fr. Peter, Bishop Graham, and I now live at the new site on the edge of Newcastle Town bordering the N11. If you google the place, search for “Hilldrop”. The FMM sisters will be the next to move here. Their house/convent is nearing completion.

This is another small glimpse of some of the life and work here in our twinned Diocese.

Love , and God bless you all. Gerald xxx….Fr. G….Papa G….Baba,  etc.

[email protected] .   cell:  (+27)761223234 (text).   [email protected].

Post:  Postnet Suite 95:  P/Bag  X 6603:  Newcastle 2940:  South Africa